Early Women's Clubs in Knox County


This is an excerpt from the History of Knox County, Vol. 1, by Albert Perry, pages 517-522.

"Following close upon the footsteps of the great temperance reform movement there came to the front that still greater organization of women, "the largest charitable organization in the world", the Woman's Relief Corps. And here again we leave it to the pen of one who, by close personal connection with it, is better fitted than ourselves to tell of its work.

Mrs. R. E. McCullough, who was one of the founders of the Woman's Relief Corps of Galesburg in 1888, and who was its president for the first three years, has kindly given us the following sketch of its history which we quote as a whole.


The first organization of the Woman's Relief Corps, Auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic, was formed in Fitchburg, Massachusetts in 1879, since which time it has grown to be the largest charitable organization in the world. Its special objects are to render to the veterans of the civil war and their dependent ones, aid and comfort in sickness and distress, and perpetuate the memory of their heroic dead in the sacred observance of Memorial day.

The order reaches almost every state in the union. Illinois stands third in membership and influence, and last year she expended $8,872 in relief alone.

Knox county has but two corps, G. W. Trafton Corps of Knoxville, organized in 1907, now has seventy-five members with $40 expended for relief last year. Jas. T. Shields Woman's Relief Corps No. 121, Auxiliary to Post 45, G. A. R. of Galesburg, was organized in August, 1888, and at present has one hundred and seventy-seven members.

Corps committees visit the poor and sick, carrying them fruit and flowers and in case of need supply them with food and clothing. For 1911 Corps No. 121 expended for relief $43.20, in fruit, and flowers $73.56. Outside of regular relief work the corps has given $50 to the Visiting Nurse Association, $20 to the Galesburg hospital, besides smaller contributions to other charities of the city.

Along patriotic lines the corps has been active. In 1909 with appropriate exercises, we placed two large flags in our public schools, and the following year sent a large flag to float over the old home of Illinois' beloved son, Abraham Lincoln. In 1911 we presented a life size portrait of Lincoln to the Lincoln Debating club of the Galesburg high school. Several years ago the members of Corps No. 121 conceived the idea of erecting a soldiers' monument to the memory of deceased soldiers of this community. Finally after months of persistent hard work, faithfully assisted by the members of Post 45, their efforts were crowned with success. In 1896 the monument standing at the northeast corner of Hope cemetery was dedicated.

Mary A. Bickerdyke, the much loved army nurse, died in Kansas in November, 1901, her remains were brought to Galesburg, her former home for interment in the family burial lot in Linwood cemetery. At once Corps 121 became active and with the generous assistance of posts and corps throughout the state were enable to erect the substantial monument that marks her last resting place. Not content with this, the following spring after Mother Bickerdyke's death, a number of ladies from the Woman's Relief Corps formed and incorporated an association to be known as the "Mother Bickerdyke Memorial Association", its purpose and aim to erect a suitable testimonial to this beloved woman. After much time and thought had been expended, the association with the valuable assistance of Honorables Leon A. Townsend and Wilfred Arnold secured an appropriation of $5,000 from the state, and today the beautiful statue of Mother Bickerdyke, holding the cup of cold water to the dying soldier's lips, graces the Court House park of this city. The dedication took place during Encampment week, May 22nd, 1906, and was attended by eight thousand veterans, visitors and citizens. Governor Yates honored the association with his presence and delivered the address of the day.

The motto of the Woman's Relief Corps is Fraternity, Charity and Loyalty, and its religion, "To do unto others as ye would that others do unto you."

Two years after the orgainzation of the Woman's Relief Corps, the movement was inaugurated which resulted in the establishment of "The Galesburg Free Kindergarten Association", which has since developed into "The Knox County Free Kindergarten Association," one of the most notable philanthropic organiza­
tions in our county.

Once more we give space to another to speak of this great institution, the one best qualified of all the women of the county, because of her intimate relation to its work, she having served as its president during the entire period of its existence, or since 1890, Mrs. Mary Claycomb Grubb.

We have the more gladly yielded the space to Mrs. Arnold, Mrs. McCullough and Mrs. Grubb because of our desire that the three great philanthropic organizations which they represent should receive the full measure of justice which could only be given them by these noble women whose very existence and most earnest endeavor have been wrought into their history.

In the fall of 1890, Miss M. Evelyn Strong, who founded and was for many years principal of the Galesburg Kindergarten Normal, inaugurated a movement to establish a free kindergarten for the children of the poor of Galesburg.

As an initiative to this undertaking Miss Strong called upon the pastors of the different churches of the city to preach, each one on the same Sabbath morning, a sermon on "Free Kindergartens and Their Advantages." At the same time she asked each of the pastors to give her the names of three ladies of his congregation whom she might invite to a conference with her in regard to her project. The sermons were preached and in August or September of that year, 1890, a large number of ladies met in the parlors of the Kindergarten Normal for the proposed conference.

Miss Strong was the leading spirit of the meeting and associated with her and ably abetting her efforts was Miss Alice Chapin, Miss Strong's great friend and at one time instructor.

The records of the first two or three years were unfortunately lost and many of the details of that period are largely a matter of memory. We do not forget, however, that this was distinctively a woman's movement and has always remained so. Gentlemen have given generously both of money and helpful advice. In fact, their support has contributed largely to the success of this charity, but while they may become honorary members of the association, they do not have a vote in its proceedings. The leading ladies of Galesburg took an active interest in establishing this, up to that time, new sort of charitable work in this city and it has always commanded the loyal support of all classes.

At the second meeting a constitution and by-laws were adopted and permanent officers were elected as follows: Mrs. Mary Claycomb Grubb, president; Mrs. O. F. Price, vice-president; Mrs. Helena Crummett Lee, secretary; Mrs. Grace Fahnestock, treasurer.

The organization was named "The Galesburg Free Kindergarten Association," the purpose for which it was created being, as stated in the preamble of its constitution, "to maintain one or more free kindergartens in the city of Galesburg."

Three permanent committees were established, one on finances, one on lunches, and one on visiting, each of these committees being composed of one lady from each of the churches represented in the association, this charity being undertaken and directed by the churches.

Other standing committees have been created from time to time, such as the house committee, the children's committee, the employment committee, purchasing committee, and committee on menus.

It was on the lower floor of the south side of the building, formerly used for city offices, known as the fire proof building (this building has since given place to a very ornate city hall), on October 6, 1890, that the doors of this new institution were opened with twenty-five children in attendance, and two teachers, Miss Mary Hazzard and Miss Mary Owen in charge, both graduates of Miss Strong's Kindergarten Normal. It was a very modest beginning, and attracted so little public attention at that time that the city papers of that date contain no mention of the event.

Miss Owen was a young woman of the negro race and did efficient work as assistant kindergartner until 1896, when she resigned and Miss Emma Chase of Binghampton, New York, was chosen to fill the vacancy.

Miss Hazzard held the position as principal of the school until her death, May 31st, 1904, and up to that date the success of the undertaking was largely due to her efficiency.

In 1893, increased city business caused a demand for the rooms the school was then occupying and the association bought from G. N. Hamilton the Cottage Hotel situated on Cherry street, which the city council moved to the southeast corner of the land then used as the city market, giving us a lease of the land, and the work was continued at this place.

In the meantime it was discovered that these children needed more than one lunch a week. They needed a home, clothing, mothering and one after another came for this kind of care until the home became one of the important features of this charity. The demands became so great that in 1903, it became evident that it would be necessary to provide a new building to admit of further growth or even to continue the home and kindergarten.

Many friends rallied to this rather daring project. Mr. and Mrs. George A. Lawrence headed the list of the subscription with a gift of one thousand dollars for themselves and four hundred dollars in the names of their three children, Parke, Louise and Rebecca. Mr. Grant Beadle generously offered his services as an architect, and also as supervisor of the erection of the structure and one morning in June a large number of ladies started out from the old building on Simmons street to canvass for pledges to pay for the new building. At the close of that sweet June day there was enough money in sight to make success assured.

The new building, erected at a cost of $10,000, stands at the corner of Simmons and Cedar streets and bears upon its corner stone the inscription "The M. Evelyn Strong Free Kindergarten, founded 1890." Before breaking ground for the erection of this building, the city council placed in the hands of the members of the association a ninety-nine year lease of the south half of the old market place and later included in this lease the north half also.

Few realized when the free kindergarten was opened, the growth which this charity was destined to make nor could any one foresee the good will and the consequent outpouring of money and supplies which it would win from the people of Galesburg and Knox county. It has been the recipient of favors and gifts from all classes of our people. Rich and poor, church members and non-church members send here money, food, clothing, or give other service. In 1903 the city council voted an appropriation of $75 a month, but this has since been reduced to $500 a year. In 1907, the board of supervisors made an appropriation of $50 a month to this work, the same being afterwards increased to $75. Since this recognition by the board of supervisors, the association has been known as "The Knox County Free Kindergarten Association."

Our endowment fund was started in 1897, when Mr. and Mrs. George A. Lawrence gave a generous sum for this fund to be known as "The Parke and Louise Lawrence Fund." This has been increased from year to year by other gifts by these friends and by several legacies and now amounts to $4,500.

The expenses incurred in maintaining this charity are two kinds. The one, which consists of the salaries paid our house staff, is almost a fixed amount. The other item of expense is the cost of maintaining the home and varies from time to time according to the size of the family and other conditions. The average cost, including salaries and every other sort of expense for the year ending May 1st, 1911, was sixty-three cents per day for each child. The money to meet these expenses has come to us from voluntary contributions of friends, personal appeals made to our churches and entertainments of different kinds. In August, 1904. an open air performance of "As You Like It" under the direction of Mrs. E. S. Gunnell and Mr. Lou Maddox put $1,621.25 into our treasury. In October, 1905. "The Baby Carnival" netted $1,587.87, and the entertainments of "Home Coming Week" brought $1,000 and three tag days were very profitable. The association has been able to pay for the new building and to meet all other indebtedness, a fact which is highly complimentary to the citizens of Galesburg and Knox county.

Since 1903, the county children who have needed a home have been sent to the free kindergarten home instead of the almshouse. In this way has one county of our state solved the question of caring for such children, and it certainly is better than the old way of doing that work, if not the best.

Since February, 1894, the building under the management of the W. C. T. U. has been opened one evening of each month for a mother's meeting of the poor.

The Dorcas Society, a charitable organization of long standing, was merged into the association in 1897, and the home became a sort of center for all charities.

It has already been stated that this is now a Knox county as well as in a very special sense a Galesburg charity. It has friends and supporters in all parts of the county. The ladies of Altona and Oneida have organized a branch association which has a strong membership and which is a source of inestimable help to the home.

We cannot give the number of children who have received care and training at the kindergarten home since its opening, now more than twenty-one years ago. For a number of years an average of a hundred children have lived here for some part of the year and many of them for the entire twelve months. During the year ending May 1st, 1911, 104 children were in the home, the average time for each child being about two and one-half months. Since September, 1911, the average per month has been above thirty and the number of different children who have come under the influence of the home since 1896 is over five hundred. No one can say how strong an element this has been in the lives of these otherwise neglected children, to make them useful men and women. No one can estimate, on the other hand, the uplift towards the higher and nobler life it has given this community to do this work. We can almost say that there has been no step backward in the now twenty-one years of the existence of this charity and we are ready to announce that the "Knox County Children's Home and Free Kindergarten" is now a permanent institution, here to stay.

And now we have come to the period of intellectual unrest, the aspiration and out-reach for higher ideals and a broader culture, which resulted in the organization one by one of the literary clubs and other culture clubs which are justly and pardonably the pride of the women of this county. By reason of these organizations our county may, without question, be rated as one of the leading literary centers of the state. In Galesburg alone there are eighteen exclusively literary clubs with a membership of upwards of nine hundred, while in Oneida, Maquon and Abingdon the proportion in relation to the population is scarcely less.

In the three philanthropic and patriotic societies of Galesburg the membership is between five hundred and six hundred, making nearly fifteen hundred in all.

With a desire to give full credit to all the clubs throughout the county, the writer sent out letters of inquiry to women whose names she knew, or could secure, in every township in the county, followed in some cases by a second letter, asking for information regarding the organized work of women in that particular locality, whether of a literary, philanthropic, patriotic or beneficent character. Only Oneida, Maquon, Abingdon, Wataga and Ontario replied to the letter, and only Maquon and Wataga replied with information.

The information regarding the Oneida clubs is gathered from printed matter at hand. There is known to be a club in Abingdon but we have no information regarding it. Possibly there are others in the county. It is a matter of regret to omit any of them in this summary of woman's work in the county, but the writer must be pardoned for so doing after making all due effort to secure the desired information.

The clubs of Oneida, Maquon and Abingdon are thoroughly organized and active.

Wataga combines the club idea to some extent with the earnest, united work of the women of the Congregational church. And it may be said once for all, and in regard to all, that the splendid efforts of the women's societies in all the churches throughout the county in their many lines of work deserve to be con­sidered as one of the most important factors in the all around development of these women.

It was in 1890 that the club idea began to be developed in earnest in this county. In the twenty-two years which have elapsed since then the movement has grown, until at the present writing there are known to be thirty-five women's organizations with an approximate membership of two thousand. This includes the patriotic and philanthropic as well as the literary organizations."

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